How NYC’s Musket Room re-emerged as a woman-powered, globe-trotting dinner destination

Fresh yuba with favas, basil, horseradish, and amaranth at The Musket Room. | Credit: The Musket Room

The Musket Room first opened in June 2013 as a New Zealand-inspired, fine-dining restaurant steered by chef Matt Lambert. In February 2020, Lambert, part of the team that earned the restaurant its MICHELIN star, was replaced by chef Mary Attea, a Buffalo, New York native. 

Chef Mary Attea became The Musket Room’s executive chef in 2020. | Credit: The Musket Room

Then, of course, the world and its restaurants paused. When it reopened for business in July 2020, The Musket Room re-emerged as a woman-powered, globe-trotting dinner destination. The restaurant’s entire leadership team is women: from executive chef Attea to owner Jennifer Vitagliano to pastry chef Camari Mick. It’s one of a few spots in New York City—and America—with such a strong female lineup. 

Recently, it landed in the limelight for earning a spot on The New York Times’s list of the 50 best restaurants in the country.

“We uplift each other,” Attea says of her trailblazing team. “We can’t ignore the impact that can have. It breaks the mold,” she adds, referring to an industry that is still predominantly run by white men.

This past March, The Musket Room launched a limited-edition Women’s History Month menu. It featured gourmet dishes inspired by iconic recipes from the team’s mothers and female heroes, plus a wine pairing exclusively from women winemakers. 

Outside the box

The Musket Room’s tasting menu includes seasonal dishes with Japanese accents, such as ora king salmon with furikake, smoked salmon roe, and dashi butter. | Credit: Jason Greenspan

Attea’s approach to The Musket Room’s dishes breaks from tradition. Instead of focusing on a specific cuisine or region for inspiration, she pulls from her Lebanese heritage, global travels, and training under award-winning chef Anita Lo (at the now-shuttered Anissa).

Chef Lo ran her acclaimed restaurant with a similar philosophy, explains Attea. “Her [Lo’s] cooking style drew influence from all over the world,” Attea says of her mentor. “It didn’t feel limiting. If I discover something I really love to eat and I want to use it, I’m not [stuck] in a box.”

At $109, The Musket Room’s seven-course tasting menu is accessible and rewarding. A la carte dishes can be enjoyed at the bar, a move that creates an atmosphere for regulars, of which there are many.

“It’s nice for neighbors,” Attea says of the ambiance and menu she’s aimed to bring to life since joining The Musket Room in 2020. When the pandemic hit, Attea pivoted to a playful “backyard” menu, serving hand-held treats such as skewers and lobster rolls and providing a casual spot to connect. 

Fast forward to 2022, and Attea’s menu retains that initial warmth. “I like to think my food is fun, unique and creative, and still approachable,” she says. 

Attea focuses on recognizable ingredients that “don’t put people off,” she says. Basics, including a warm sourdough boule, perfectly crusty on the outside and steamy on the inside, are enhanced with anchovy-infused butter; beef tartare perks up with zesty green peppercorn. 

Democratic dining

As a reflection of The Musket Room’s signature inclusiveness, both an omnivore and a plant-based chef’s tasting menu are available each night. Tables can mix and match menus. For example, omnivores can start with a caviar amuse bouche, while vegans enjoy a walnut tart. Dishes such as a vegan soup made from carrots roasted with za’atar and sumac, plus ginger and husked cherries or roast duck with labneh and za’atar follow, building up in heartiness. The menu changes about four times a year, with small edits each season to showcase the best produce.

Currently, Attea is testing foie gras terrine with cinnamon-poached apples and a scallop crudo with pickled turnips, trout roe, ponzu, and hijiki. “I’m very fond of Japanese flavors,” she says. “They make their way into dishes often.” Spanish ingredients are also prominent, but there’s a “cohesion” throughout the tasting, Attea assures. The saltiness of anchovy butter carries through to the next course of scallop with trout roe and avocado, for example, providing a flow between strong, distinct flavors. 

Of sweets and stories

Pastry chef Camari Mick brings nostalgic yet inventive desserts to The Musket Room, such as an ice cream “float” with malt, devil’s food cake, and pretzel. | Credit: Jason Greenspan

To finish, desserts by Mick are ever-changing and emblematic of the season. “She brings everything together,” Attea says.  

At the moment, Mick is most excited by early fall’s fig semifreddo. “It’s inspired by my grandmother’s love for Fig Newtons,” Mick explains. The semifreddo is dipped in liquid vanilla shortbread and frozen. The Musket Room’s other current dessert offerings include a spongy orange blossom cake with pistachio ganache and a vibrant green Sicilian pistachio topping.

The restaurant’s desserts are always innovative and personal, according to Mick. “How do I make this dish mine?” she muses, outlining a story-driven approach. It’s a question that describes much of the genre-defying menu, as well as The Musket Room’s steady and powerful ascent.

Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner is a writer based in Brooklyn, where she lives with her wife and rescue dog. You can follow her on Instagram @melissabethk and Twitter @melissabethk

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